Prompt: Get to Know a Supporting Character

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

This week we’ve talked about supporting characters and how to use them effectively.  Recall that supporting characters are meant to do just that: support the main character by shining a spotlight on different aspects of that protagonist’s personality.  Even villains are supporting characters (though perhaps not “supportive” characters) because they help bring out a side of the protagonist that we ordinarily wouldn’t see.

Rarely do we get supporting characters who have full-fledged lives of their own in a story.  Of course, we want to avoid making these supporting characters flat and one-sided, but when it comes to the role of the supporting characters within the scope of the story their job is always the same: to support the protagonist.  The reader usually doesn’t need to know the intricate details of a supporting character’s life, unless it relates to the protagonist.

This week I want you to enter the world of a supporting character in your work-in-progress (WIP).  Get to know that character’s family or follow her to work.  Take him out to lunch and see what he picks out from the menu.  Just because this information doesn’t exist within the confines of your WIP doesn’t mean that you don’t  need to know it.  In fact, by gaining a deeper knowledge of a supporting character’s life “off stage” you’ll gain insight about his or her role “on stage” as well.

Weekend Prompt: Follow a Supporting Character “Off Stage.”

Choose a supporting character and follow him or her “off stage” and outside of the presence of the protagonist.  Write a short scene of your character doing something without the protagonist around.  That scene could be something as everyday as grocery shopping or as steamy as a love affair.  (500 words)

When you have finished, consider the following questions:

  • What did this scene reveal to you about this supporting character?  Was some of it what you texpected?  Did some of it surprise you?
  • How can you hint at this information or use it in your WIP?

Remember, you probably won’t be able to include the actual scene you wrote, but you can use details from it to show us that character in more depth.  If you’re stuck, what you learn in this exercise might be the jolt your WIP needs to get out of a rut.

What can you do with these “deleted scenes?”

There are many ways you can use these deleted scenes, even if they don’t end up in your actual WIP.  You may choose to write a companion piece to your WIP and these “deleted scenes” can give you ideas of potential story lines.  Also, if you blog and you end up publishing your WIP, you’ll probably want to avoid sharing large segments of your actual WIP on the blog.

These “deleted scenes,” though, can be a great way of bringing your readers into the world of your book without giving away too much of the novel itself.  You never know when these character studies and exercises can become something bigger and more exciting, so don’t throw them away because they might come in handy.

  • I actually have very many literally deleted scenes (in the sense that they’re no longer in the WIP, but I still saved them) that provided me some insight into the characters while I was writing them. Although I later decided they weren’t necessary for the plot, they were still very useful, especially for character development.

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